During the 2010 season, the American League East put two through teams to the playoffs. The landscapes have changed for 2011, but the AL East remains one of the toughest divisions in all of baseball. The Boston Red Sox made a huge splash with their off season moves as have the Baltimore Orioles. Will that be enough to carry them into October? Let’s take a look as we preview the 2011 AL East.
1st – Boston Red Sox – The Red Sox made some vast improvements to their already explosive lineup. They acquired Adrian Gonzalez from the San Diego Padres and also signed Carl Crawford, formerly of the Tampa Bay Rays. More importantly, they are healthy (at least for now). The Sox missed second baseman Dustin Pedroia last year as he only played in 75 games, and Kevin Youkilis only played in 102 games last year. They lost Victor Martinez, but Gonzalez and Crawford should more than make up for his loss. The Sox starting pitching looks great as well, with Jon Lester leading the way as he is a legitimate Cy Young candidate. John Lackey, Josh Beckett, Dice-K Daisuke Matsuzaka, and Clay Buchholz round out a great rotation. Boston added some beef (literally) in the bullpen as they picked up Bobby Jenks to go along with Jonathan Papelbon and Daniel Bard. This team should take the East and has what it takes to make it to the World Series if they stay healthy.
2nd – New York Yankees – The Yankees pitching staff took a hit when Andy Pettitte retired and they missed out on the Cliff Lee sweepstakes. Besides CC Sabathia, the rotation could either be real good or real mediocre. If A.J. Burnett can actually earn his money like he did in 2009, he will be a decent number two pitcher. Phil Hughes will be third in the rotation, but if he starts his 2011 like he ended his 2010, there could be some issues. The Yankees bullpen is one of the best in the league, thanks to the acquisition of Rafael Soriano. Along with Mariano Rivera, Joba Chamberlain and David Robertson, the Yanks’ pen should win them the close games. Their offense is strong as usual, but will be counted on more this year due to a weak back end of the rotation. With Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Robinson Cano, Nick Swisher, and Derek Jeter, New York should have no problems putting up runs. They should hang with Boston for a while, but the Wild Card seems the more likely scenario.
3rd – Baltimore Orioles – Ok, so I might be going out on a limb here, but just follow me on this. The Orioles were 11 games over .500 when Buck Showalter took over at the end of 2010. They had some serious issues scoring runs last year, but those issues were addressed by GM Andy MacPhail as he traded for Mark Reynolds and J.J. Hardy. He also signed Derrek Lee and Vladimir Guerrero to go along with Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, Luke Scott, Matt Wieters, and a healthy Brian Roberts. Their starting rotation is decent but still young. Jeremy Guthrie isn’t exactly a true ace, but he is a good pitcher. Behind him there is Brian Matusz, Brad Bergesen, Jake Arrieta, Chris Tillman and the newly acquired Justin Duchscherer. The O’s bullpen looks vastly improved from 2010 as they added Kevin Gregg to go along with closers Koji Uehara and Mike Gonzalez. The reason I put the Orioles ahead of Tampa Bay is the Rays’ still have decent starting pitching, but their bullpen is suspect with the losses of Grant Balfour and Rafael Soriano, not to mention no more Crawford or Carlos Pena.
4th – Tampa Bay Rays – The Rays lost a good chunk of their offense from 2010 with Crawford, Pena, and Jason Bartlett all moving out. They still have Evan Longoria, B.J. Upton and Ben Zobrist, but the Rays’ starting pitching will be what keeps them in games. David Price heads up their rotation that also features James Shields, Wade Davis, and Jeff Niemann, but losing Matt Garza definitely hurt. Their bullpen looks shaky at best thanks to the departures of Soriano, Joaquin Benoit, Grant Balfour, and Dan Wheeler. Although I would love to have Kyle Farnsworth on my team during a brawl, I wouldn’t necessarily want him closing games out for me. And yes, the Rays did add Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon, but sadly for Tampa Bay, this isn’t 2004 anymore.
5th – Toronto Blue Jays – Toronto shipped out Vernon Wells to the Angels this winter, but still have a few decent bats in their lineup. Jose Bautista won’t hit over 50 home runs this year, but can still mash. Aaron Hill and Adam Lind can put up some decent numbers at the plate, but will be counted on a bit more this year. The Jays’ rotation took a hit as Shawn Marcum left for Milwaukee, but they still have Ricky Romero and Brett Cecil. It looks like young Kyle Drabek will get his chance to claim his spot in the rotation although he did look shaky after his call up last season goin 0-3 with a 4.76 ERA, but he does have nasty stuff and will be better this year. The Jays lost Kevin Gregg to Baltimore but will still have a half decent bullpen with Octavio Dotel, Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch. Toronto isn’t a horrible team, but nothing really jumps out as a strong point which is why I put them in last.